Posts Tagged ‘Christ’

On St. Cyril of Alexandria

January 27, 2009

“An Untiring and Firm Witness of Jesus Christ”

VATICAN CITY, OCT. 3, 2007 ( Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered today at the general audience in St. Peter’s Square. The reflection focused on St. Cyril of Alexandria.

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dsc00789Dear brothers and sisters!

Today, continuing our journey in the footsteps of the Fathers of the Church, we meet a great figure: St. Cyril of Alexandria. Linked to the Christological controversy that led to the Council of Ephesus in 431, and the last noteworthy representative of the Alexandrian tradition, Cyril was later defined in the East as the “custodian of accuracy” — in other words, a guardian of the true faith — and even the “seal of all the Fathers.”

These ancient expressions manifest something that is, in fact, characteristic of Cyril, that is, the constant references the bishop of Alexandria makes to preceding ecclesiastical authorities — including, above all, Athanasius — with the goal of showing the continuity of his own theology with tradition.

Cyril took care to ensure that his theology was firmly situated within the tradition of the Church, by which he sees the guarantee of continuity with the Apostles and with Christ himself.

Venerated as a saint in both the East and the West, in 1882 St. Cyril was proclaimed a doctor of the Church by Pope Leo XIII, who at that time also gave the same title to another important representative of Greek patristics, St. Cyril of Jerusalem. This shows that Pope’s attention and love for the Eastern Christian traditions; he would later proclaim St. John Damascene a doctor of the Church, showing how the Eastern and Western traditions express the doctrine of the one Church of Christ.

Information on the life of Cyril before his election to the important See of Alexandria is scarce. A nephew of Theophilus — who, as bishop from 385, upheld the Diocese of Alexandria with resolve and prestige — Cyril was most likely born in that same Egyptian city sometime between 370-380. He soon embraced the ecclesiastical life and received a good education, both in culture and theology. In 403, he was in Constantinople following his powerful uncle and, here, he participated in the so-called Synod of the Oak, which deposed the city’s bishop — John, later called Chrysostom. This indicated the triumph of the Alexandrian See over its traditional rival, the See of Constantinople, where the emperor resided.

Upon the death of his uncle Theophilus, though still young, Cyril was elected bishop of the influential Church of Alexandria in 412, which he governed with great energy for 32 years, working tirelessly to affirm its primacy in the East, strengthened by its traditional bonds with Rome.

Two or three years later, in 417 or 418, the bishop of Alexandria showed himself to be a realist and healed the rift in the communion with Constantinople, which had been going on since 406, in the wake of Chrysostom’s removal from office.

But the old conflict with the See of Constantinople was rekindled some 10 years later, when Nestorius was elected in 428, a prestigious but severe monk, educated in Antioch. The new bishop of Constantinople quickly brought much opposition because he preferred the title “Mother of Christ” (Christotòkos) for Mary, in place of “Mother of God” (Theotòkos), which was already beloved in popular devotion.

The reason for Bishop Nestorius’ choice was his adhesion to the Christology of the Antiochean tradition, which, to safeguard the importance of Christ’s humanity, ended up affirming its separation from his divinity. Thus, there was no longer an authentic union between God and the man Christ, and therefore, one could no longer speak of a “Mother of God.”

Cyril — the leading exponent of Alexandrian Christology at the time, one who emphatically underlined the unity of Christ’s person — reacted almost immediately, using every means possible beginning in 429, even writing letters to Nestorius himself.

In the second letter (PG 77, 44-49) which Cyril sent to him, in February 430, we read a clear affirmation of the pastor’s task to preserve the faith of God’s people. This was his criterion, which is still valid today: The faith of God’s people is an expression of tradition, a guarantee of sound doctrine. He wrote to Nestorius: “It is necessary to explain the teaching and interpretation of the faith to the people in an irreproachable way, and recall that he who scandalizes even one of these little ones who believes in Christ will suffer an intolerable punishment.”

In the same letter to Nestorius — which later, in 451, would be approved by the Fourth Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon — Cyril describes his Christological faith with clarity: “The natures that have united in a true unity are different, but from both resulted one Christ and Son, not because, due to the unity, the differences of the human and divine natures have been eliminated, but rather because humanity and divinity united in an ineffable way have produced the one Lord, Christ, the Son of God.”

And this is important: The true humanity and the true divinity are really united in one person, our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, continues the bishop of Alexandria, “we profess only one Christ and Lord, not in the sense that we adore the man together with the Logos, so as not to insinuate the idea of separation by saying ‘together,’ but rather in the sense that we adore only one; his body is not something detached from the Logos, who sits at the Father’s side. There are not two sons sitting at his side, but one alone united with his own flesh.”

Soon the bishop of Alexandria, thanks to shrewd alliances, saw to it that Nestorius was repeatedly condemned: by the Roman See with a series of 12 anathemas Cyril himself composed and, in the end, by the council held in Ephesus in 431, the Third Ecumenical Council.

The assembly, which took place amid tumultuous and alternating incidents, concluded with the great triumph of devotion to Mary and with the exile of the bishop of Constantinople, who refused to recognize Mary under the title of “Mother of God,” because of a mistaken Christology, which claimed that Christ was divided in himself.

After prevailing in such a definitive way over his rival and his doctrine, Cyril was able to reach, as soon as 433, a theological formula of compromise and reconciliation with the people of Antioch. And this is also significant: On one hand there is clarity about the doctrine of faith, but on the other, there is the intense search for unity and reconciliation. In the years that followed, he dedicated himself in every way to defend and clarify his theological position until his death on June 27, 444.

Cyril’s writings — numerous and widespread in various Latin and Eastern traditions even during his life, which is a testament to their immediate success — are of the utmost importance for the history of Christianity. His commentaries on many of the books of the Old and New Testaments, including the Pentateuch, Isaiah, the Psalms and the Gospels of John and Luke, are important. Many of his doctrinal works are also greatly important, in which he continually defends the Trinitarian faith against the Arian theses and Nestorius.

The basis of Cyril’s teaching is the ecclesiastical tradition, and in particular, as I mentioned, the writings of Athanasius, his great predecessor in the Alexandrian See. Among Cyril’s other writings, we must recall the books “Against Julian,” the last great answer to anti-Christian polemics, dictated by the bishop of Alexandria most likely during the last years of his life as a response to “Against the Galileans,” written many years before, in 363, by the emperor who was called an apostate for having abandoned the Christianity in which he had been educated.

The Christian faith is above all a meeting with Jesus, “a person who gives life a new horizon” (encyclical “Deus Caritas Est,” No. 1). St. Cyril of Alexandria was an untiring and firm witness of Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word of God, emphasizing his unity above all, as he repeats in his first letter in 433 to Bishop Succens: “One alone is the Son, one alone is the Lord Jesus Christ, before the incarnation and after the incarnation. In fact, it is not a question of a Son, the Logos, born of God the Father, and another, born of the holy Virgin; but we believe that he who is before all time was born according to the flesh of a woman.”

This affirmation, beyond its doctrinal significance, shows that faith in Jesus, the “Logos,” born of the Father, is also deeply rooted in history because, as St. Cyril says, this same Jesus came in time by being born of Mary, the “Theotòkos,” and will be, according to his promise, with us always. And this is important: God is eternal, he was born of a woman and remains with us every day. We live in this trust, in this trust we find the path of our life.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The subject of today’s catechesis is Saint Cyril of Alexandria, known as the “pillar of faith” and the “seal of all the Fathers”. He was born somewhere between 370 and 380, and at a young age became Bishop of Alexandria. Cyril was a zealous defender of the faith. He took care to ensure that his theology was firmly situated within the tradition of the Church by referring to preceding ecclesiastical authorities, especially Athanasius. Through a series of letters countering the position of Nestorius, the Bishop of Constantinople, Cyril made a very significant contribution to Christology defending the divinity and humanity of Christ united in the one Lord, Christ and Son. He was also of utmost influence at the Council of Ephesus, supporting the recognition of the Virgin Mary as the “Mother of God”. This led to the deposition of Nestorius as Bishop of Constantinople. Saint Cyril, a prolific writer whose works were read throughout the Church, was declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Leo XIII in 1882. May our remembrance of this outstanding figure in the history of Christianity remind us that the centre of our faith is the encounter with Jesus Christ, who gives each one of us a new horizon and a decisive direction!

I am pleased to welcome the English-speaking pilgrims present at this Audience, especially those from Australia, Denmark, Scotland and the United States. In a special way I greet the Maryknoll Missionaries, the priests from the Diocese of Wheeling–Charleston, the students from the Pontifical Beda College and Deacon Candidates from the Pontifical North American College. May God continue to strengthen you as you strive to serve his people. Upon all of you I invoke God’s abundant blessings of joy and peace.


On the Peace Christ Brought

October 6, 2008

“Not the Simple Absence of Conflict”

CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, AUG. 19, 2007 ( Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered today before reciting the midday Angelus in the courtyard of the papal summer residence at Castel Gandolfo.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters!

There is an expression of Jesus’ in this Sunday’s Gospel that always draws our attention and which needs to be properly understood. As he is on his way to Jerusalem, where death on the cross awaits him, Christ confides in his disciples: “Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” 

And he adds: “From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three; a father will be divided against his son and a son against his father, a mother against her daughter and a daughter against her mother, a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law” (Luke 12:51-53). 

Whoever knows the least amount about the Gospel of Christ knows that it is the message of peace par excellence; Jesus himself, as St. Paul writes, “is our peace” (Ephesians 2:14); he died and rose from the dead to break down the wall of enmity and inaugurated the Kingdom of God, which is love, joy, and peace. 

How, then, are we to explain these words of his? To what is the Lord referring when he says that he has come to bring — according to St. Luke’s redaction — “division,” or — according to St. Matthew’s — the “sword” (Matthew 10:34)?

Christ’s expression means the peace that he came to bring is not synonymous with the simple absence of conflict. On the contrary, the peace of Jesus is the fruit of a constant struggle against evil. The battle that Jesus has decided to fight is not against men or human powers but against the enemy of God and man, Satan.

Those who desire to resist this enemy, remaining faithful to God and the good, must necessarily deal with misunderstandings and sometimes very real persecution. Thus, those who intend to follow Jesus and commit themselves without compromises to the truth must know that they will face opposition and will become, despite themselves, a sign of division among persons, even within their own families. 

Love of one’s parents is indeed a sacred commandment, but for it to be lived authentically it cannot be set in opposition to the love of God and Christ. In such a way, in the footsteps of the Lord Jesus, Christians must become “instruments of his peace,” according to the celebrated expression of St. Francis of Assisi. This is not an inconsistent and superficial peace but a real one, pursued with courage and tenacity in the daily commitment to defeat evil with good (cf. Romans 12:21), paying in person the price that this carries with it.

The Virgin Mary, Queen of Peace, shared the struggle of her son Jesus against the evil one, to the point of spiritual martyrdom, and she continues to share this struggle until the end of time. Let us invoke her maternal intercession, that she may help us always to be faithful witnesses to Christ’s peace, never giving in to compromises with evil.

[After the Angelus, the Holy Father said:]

In these days our thoughts and our prayers are turned constantly to the people of Peru, who have been stricken by a devastating earthquake. For the many who have died, I invoke the peace of the Lord, for those who have been injured, I ask for quick recovery, and for those thrown into miserable circumstances I assure you that the Church is with you, in spiritual and material solidarity. My secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who for some time had planned a visit to Peru, in the next few days, will, in person, bring the testimony of my sentiments and the concrete help of the Holy See.

This morning in Rimini the “Meeting for Friendship Among Peoples” opened. The theme of this year’s meeting is “The Truth Is the Destiny for Which We Have Been Made.” In offering a cordial greeting to the organizers, I give the assurance of my prayers that, through the multiple initiatives of the program, the meeting might be for many a profitable occasion for reflection and awareness, to realize the profoundest vocation of man: being a seeker of truth and thus a seeker of God (cf. “Fides et Ratio,” prologue).

[Translation by ZENIT]

[The Pope then greeted the people in various languages. In English, he said:]

I am pleased to greet the English-speaking visitors gathered for this Angelus prayer. The readings from today’s Mass invite us to lift our eyes to Jesus, who inspires and perfects our faith. May you and your families experience the Lord’s closeness during these summer holidays and respond to his love through deeper prayer and more generous acts of charity. Upon all of you I invoke Christ’s blessings of joy and peace!

On the Heart of Christian Life

September 2, 2008

“Love Renders Us Witnesses to Christ”

LORENZAGO DI CADORE, Italy, JULY 15, 2007 ( Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered today before reciting the midday Angelus at Mirabello Castle, near the spot where the Pope is vacationing in northern Italy.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I thank the Lord that also this year he offers me the possibility to pass some days of rest in the mountains, and I am grateful to those who have welcomed me here in Lorenzago, in this enchanting panorama in which the summit of Mount Cadore forms the background and where my beloved predecessor John Paul II visited several times.

I offer a special thanks to the bishop of Treviso and the bishop of Belluno-Feltre, and to all who in various ways are contributing to assure me a serene and profitable sojourn. Before this scene of meadows, of woods, of peaks ascending toward heaven, the desire to praise God for the marvel of his works spontaneously arises in the soul and easily transforms itself into prayer.

Every good Christian knows that vacations are an opportune time to stretch one’s body and to nourish the spirit in more ample spaces of prayer and meditation, to grow in one’s personal relationship with Christ, and to conform more and more to his teachings. Today, for example, the liturgy invites us to reflect on the celebrated parable of the Good Samaritan (cf. Luke 10:25-37), that introduces love for God and neighbor into the heart of the evangelical message.

But who is my neighbor? Jesus’ interlocutor asks. And the Lord answers, reversing the question, showing through the story of the Good Samaritan that each one of us must be the neighbor of each person we meet. “Go and do the same!” (Luke 10:37). To love, Jesus says, is to conduct oneself like the Good Samaritan. We know that Jesus is the Good Samaritan par excellence: Although he was God, he did not hesitate to abase himself to the point of becoming man and giving his life for us.

Love, therefore, is the “heart” of Christian life; in fact, only the love awakened in us by the Holy Spirit renders us witnesses to Christ.

I wanted to re-propose this important spiritual truth in the message for the 23rd World Youth Day, which will be made known next Friday, July 20: “You will receive power from the Holy Spirit, who will descend upon you” (Acts 1:8).

This is what I invite you to reflect on in the next months, dear young people, to prepare for our big meeting in Sydney, Australia, that, precisely in these days of July, will take place one year from now. The Christian communities of that beloved nation are actively working to welcome you and I am grateful to them for their efforts in organizing.

Let us entrust to Mary, who tomorrow we will invoke as the Virgin of Mount Carmel, the preparation and unfolding of the next meeting with the young people of the whole world, to which I invite you, dear friends of every continent.

On Being Missionaries of Christ

August 30, 2008

“In God’s Field There Is Work for Everyone”

VATICAN CITY, JULY 8, 2007 ( Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered today before reciting the midday Angelus with several thousand people gathered in St. Peter’s Square.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today the Gospel (cf. Luke 10:1-12,17-20) presents Jesus sending out 72 disciples to the villages where he is about to arrive so that they will prepare the way.

This is unique to the evangelist Luke, who emphasizes that the mission is not reserved to the Twelve Apostles, but is extended to other disciples. In fact, Jesus says that “the harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few” (Luke 10:2).

In God’s field there is work for everyone. But Christ does not limit himself to sending out. He also gives the disciples clear and precise rules of conduct.

First of all he sends them out “two by two,” so that they help each other and give an example of fraternal love. He notes that they will be “like lambs among wolves” — despite everything they must be peaceful and in every situation bring a message of peace; they will not take clothes or money with them, so as to live by what Providence offers them; they will care for the sick, as a sign of God’s mercy; where they are rejected, they will leave, limiting themselves to warning those who reject them that they are responsible for rejecting the kingdom of God.

St. Luke highlights the enthusiasm of the disciples over the good fruits of the mission, and records this beautiful expression of Jesus: “Do not rejoice because the demons are subject to you, but rejoice because your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20). This Gospel reawakens in all the baptized the awareness of being missionaries of Christ, called to prepare the way for him with words and with the testimony of their lives.

Tomorrow I leave for Lorenzago di Cadore, where I will be the guest of the bishop of Treviso, in the house where the venerable John Paul II was already welcomed. The mountain air will be good for me and I will be able to dedicate myself more freely to reflection and prayer.

I wish all of you, especially those most in need, the possibility of taking a little vacation to reinvigorate your physical and spiritual energies and recover a salutary contact with nature. The mountains, in particular, evoke the upward ascent of the spirit, the elevation toward the “high measure” of our humanity, which daily life unfortunately tends to abase.

In this connection I would like to recall the fifth Pilgrimage of Young People to the Cross of Adamello, where twice the Holy Father John Paul II went. The pilgrimage took place recently and a short while ago culminated in the Holy Mass celebrated at a height of 3,000 meters. In greeting the archbishop of Trent and the general secretary of the Italian bishops’ conference, as well as the government officials of Trent, I also renew my appointment with all Italian young people for two days at Loreto, Sept. 1-2.

May the Virgin Mary always protect us, whether on mission or in just repose, so that we carry out our task with joy and with fruit in the vineyard of the Lord.

[Translation by ZENIT]

[After praying the Angelus, the Holy Father greeted pilgrims in six languages. In English, he said:]

I warmly welcome the English-speaking pilgrims present at this Angelus. In a special way I am pleased to greet those taking part in the “Interamnia World Cup,” handball tournament in Teramo, Italy. The participants in this event come from more than a hundred different Countries, some of which are in conflict with each other. Yet this peaceful gathering of athletes is an example of how sports can bring us together in the spirit of fellowship between peoples and cultures. Sports are indeed a sign that peace is possible.

In today’s Gospel we are reminded that the harvest is plenty but the labourers are few. Let us all pray that the Lord of the Harvest will continue to bless his Church with confident and generous workers. I thank you for your prayerful presence, and I invoke the abundant blessings of Almighty God upon you and your families.

On the Freedom of Christ

August 23, 2008

“A Conscious Choice Motivated by Love”

VATICAN CITY, JULY 1, 2007 ( Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered today before reciting the midday Angelus with several thousand people gathered in St. Peter’s Square.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters!

The Biblical readings of the Mass this Sunday invite us to meditate on a fascinating theme that can summed up thus: freedom and the following of Christ. The evangelist Luke recounts that Jesus, “as the days in which he would be taken from the world were approaching, resolutely turned toward Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51).

With the expression “resolutely” we can glimpse something of the freedom of Christ. He knows in fact that death on the cross is waiting for him in Jerusalem but in obedience to the will of the Father he offers himself up for love. It is in his obedience to the Father that Jesus realizes his freedom as a conscious choice motivated by love. Who is freer than he, who is omnipotent?

He did not live his freedom, however, as license or dominion. He lived it as service. In this way he “filled” with content a freedom that would have otherwise remained an “empty” possibility to do or not do something. As the life itself of man, freedom takes its meaning from love. Who is more free? The one who holds onto all possibilities for fear of losing them, or the one who “resolutely” gives himself in service and thus finds himself full of life because of the love that he has given and received?

The apostle Paul, writing to the Christians in Galatia, in present day Turkey, says: “You were called for freedom, brothers and sisters. But do not use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh; rather, serve one another through love” (Galatians 5:13).

Living according to the flesh means to follow the egoistic tendencies of human nature. Living according to the Spirit, however, means letting oneself be guided in intentions and deeds by the love of God that Christ has given to us. Christian freedom, therefore, is completely different from arbitrariness; it is following Christ in the gift of self, right up to the sacrifice on the cross.

It might seem paradoxical, but the Lord lived the culmination of his freedom on the cross, as the pinnacle of love. When on Calvary they shouted: “If you are the Son of God, come down from that cross!” He showed his freedom as Son precisely by remaining on the gibbet to fully accomplish the merciful will of the Father. Many other witnesses to truth have shared this experience: men and woman who remained free even in a prison cell and under the threat of torture. “The truth will set you free.” Those who belong to the truth will never be the slave of any power, but will always know how to freely be the servant of their brothers.

Let us look to Mary Most Holy. Humble handmaiden of the Lord, the Virgin is the model of the spiritual person, totally free because she is immaculate, immune to sin, and completely holy, dedicated to the service of God and neighbor. With her maternal care may she help us to follow Jesus, to know the truth, and to live in the freedom of love.

From Colombia comes the sad news of the barbarous assassination of 11 regional deputies of the department of Valle del Cauca, who were held hostage for more than five years by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

As I pray for them, I unite myself with the deep pain of their families and of the beloved Colombian nation which is once again shaken by fratricidal hate. I renew my earnest plea that all kidnapping cease immediately and that those who are victims of such inadmissible forms of violence be returned to the affection of their loved ones.

I am happy to greet all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present for today’s Angelus. Today’s Liturgy reminds us that to be a Christian means to follow Jesus. He is the Teacher, we are his disciples. May the Lord give us grace and courage so that our life will always be inspired by the words and actions of Jesus. I wish you all a pleasant stay in Rome and a blessed Sunday.